By Megan Sayles
Currently, there are over 106,000 people in the U.S. on the national transplant waiting list, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Every nine minutes, another person is added to that list, and every day, 17 people die while waiting for an organ transplant.
In Maryland, there are over 3,000 people that remain on the organ donor waiting list.
Just last week, President Joe Biden declared April as National Donate Life Month, a time to raise awareness about donation and encourage Americans to register as organ, eye, tissue, marrow and blood donors.
Donate Life Maryland (DLM), a nonprofit organization that is responsible for maintaining the Maryland Donor Registry, is commemorating and promoting donation all month long by holding a flag raising with the Motor Vehicle Administration, highlighting living donors, encouraging people to wear blue or green in honor of donors and spreading awareness about the need for pediatric transplants.
Established in 2007, the organization works closely with the The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland and the Washington Regional Transplant Community to spread the word and answer questions about organ donation.
“A potential donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and up to 75 lives through tissue donation,” said Lisa Spicknall, executive director of DLM.
People have the option of donating their heart, intestines, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, bones, corneas, heart valves, skin, tendons and veins. In the state of Maryland, they also have the ability to specify which organs and tissues may be used for transplantation, according to Spicknall.
Unfortunately, there are several myths and misconceptions that permeate organ donation.
The most common of these is that hospitals and first responders will not try to save your life if you are registered as a donor, according to Spicknall. In reality, a person’s organ donation status is not even determined until after they are pronounced dead.
Another misconception that some have is that their age or illnesses prevent them from becoming donors, but that is not the case.
Religious views may also cause people to refrain from registering as a donor, but no religions formally forbid organ donation or receipt.
Spicknall advised those who have reservations about organ donation to reach out to DLM and to do their own research and have an open discussion with their family and friends about the matter.
Currently, there is a great need for diverse donors.
“One of the reasons why minority donor awareness is so important is over half of those on the organ transplant waiting list are minorities,” said Spicknall. “At the same time, just over 30% of donors are minorities.”
Although organs are not matched based on race, people typically have a better chance matching with those who have a similar racial or ethnic background because compatible blood types and tissue markers are more likely to be found among those of the same ethnicity.
As an organization, DLM wants to increase minority donor awareness and communicate the impact a person can have by choosing to become a donor.
To register as an organ, eye and tissue donor, head to Donate Life Maryland’s website.
“It really, really is a life-saving decision,” said Spicknall.